For as long as I can remember, ever since I was old enough to say it, I’ve always been aware of the power of ‘thank you’. More specifically, I’ve always known that those two little words could always make others feel happy, special, and appreciated. Yet, it wasn’t until my adulthood that I came to fully understand that ‘thank you’ had just as much of a positive effect on the person saying it as it did on the person hearing it.
The idea of gratitude, as I’ve come to experience, goes far beyond a thank you – although that is an essential part of it. Being grateful means being fully aware, present, and mindful of what is happening around you at all times. It means appreciating both the positive and the negative, and being able to say, with an open heart, that you are thankful for all experiences and the wisdom that comes of them. As I’ve moved toward living a more conscious life, the start of my gratitude practice came about as a natural progression of that. Practicing gratitude has given me the opportunity to also practice mindfulness. Each of these elements fit together like pieces of the same puzzle.
Now, when I talk about a ‘gratitude practice’, I’m not suggesting that we incorporate yet another time-consuming routine into our already full lives. (Although even if that was my suggestion, it would be worth it nonetheless.) Showing gratitude doesn’t have to feel intimidating or emotional or burdensome. A gratitude practice can be as big or as small as you want it to be. Here are four ways that I’ve practiced gratitude over the years that I hope will inspire you to get started with your very own practice.
Keep a gratitude jar
My gratitude practice has taken many forms, with this one being the first. To start, all you need is a jar, paper, and pen. I kept my jar on my nightstand. At the end of every day, grab a piece of paper from anywhere – I used pieces of envelope from my old mail – and on each piece, write down something good that happened that day. It doesn’t have to be big or extravagant. It just has to be something that you’re happy to have experienced. The best part of this exercise is sitting down at the start of a new year and going through all of the notes in the jar, as a way to relive all of the great experiences from the previous year and start you on the right foot for the year ahead.
Write a letter
For this one, I should start by saying that you don’t have to send the letter, though I’m sure that the subject of the letter would be very thankful if you did. The idea here is to go through the act of thanking someone who has had some type of impact on your life – taking time to reflect on what they did for you and why it matters so much. A few years ago, I wrote my letter to Sylvia Rhone, a music executive who took enough of an interest in me to help me land my very first magazine publishing internship the summer before I started college. A job that very much helped shape my career path. She is just one example of the many great people who’ve had an impact on my life and whose letters I’ve yet to write.
Send thank you cards
I find that people really, really love to receive cards, particularly when they’re not expecting them. Also, the benefit of sending a card is that you can say as little or as much as you want in your note – the gesture of giving the card is, in itself, a noteworthy expression of gratitude. I’ve made it a point to set aside time, once or twice a year, to send a beautifully-designed thank you card to someone whom I appreciate, whether it’s a mentor, friend, or my parents. And unlike the letter mentioned in the previous example, you should definitely send these to their intended recipient.
Just say it
This is the simplest and most straightforward form of gratitude on the list, which has made it that much easier for me to stick to it for so long. Before I go to sleep each night, I take a few seconds to say thank you for all of the things that happened that day that I’m grateful for. It doesn’t have to be monumental – in fact it never is. It’s always the small things that come to mind first, and those small things are what we tend to forget to say thank you for.